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Kanye West to buy Parler, joining crowd of right-wing social media


Kanye West in New York on Sept. 12 2022. The rapper and fashion designer has agreed to buy Parler, the social media platform’s parent company said on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.

By Tiffany Hsu and Jenny Gross


Kanye West, the rapper, fashion designer and firebrand increasingly known for divisive cultural and political commentary that has been called racist, appears set to become the owner of a social media service known for its right-wing audience.


The parent company of Parler, which bills itself as a platform for uncancelable free speech, said earlier this week that West, who now goes by Ye, would acquire the site for an undisclosed sum of money.


In buying Parler, Ye will help “continue the fight against censorship, cancel culture and authoritarianism,” George Farmer, CEO of Parler’s parent company, Parlement Technologies, said in a statement. The deal was announced a little over a week after Twitter and Instagram restricted Ye’s accounts in response to antisemitic remarks that he posted.


The announcement adds another shot of name recognition to the crowded cluster of social media alternatives that have emerged in recent years to take on Twitter and Facebook, which critics have long argued unfairly censor conservative voices.


Former President Donald Trump recently started Truth Social, which advertises itself as a platform that “encourages an open, free and honest global conversation.” Jason Miller, Trump’s former spokesman, began running Gettr, a similar service, last year. And for the past six months, Elon Musk has been locked in a battle to take over Twitter, saying he wants to transform the site by better promoting free speech.


“In a world where conservative opinions are considered to be controversial, we have to make sure we have the right to freely express ourselves,” Ye said in a statement released by Parlement.


The new social media sites, many of which cater to right-wing audiences, offer refuges for users chafing against the more mainstream platforms’ moderation policies. They have also increasingly become breeding grounds for conspiracy theories and misinformation.


Parler, which was started in 2018 and is based thousands of miles from Silicon Valley in Nashville, Tennessee, has been among the most notable alternatives. Backed by right-wing activist and heiress Rebekah Mercer, it was once the most downloaded app on Apple’s App Store, fashioning its resistance to stringent content rules into a selling point and drawing millions of Trump’s fans.


Early last year, Apple, Amazon and Google had kicked Parler off their platforms after the app hosted calls for violence around the time of the Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill. Apple and Google later restored the site to their app stores, but it has struggled to maintain a large user base since.


The company said last month that it had more than 16 million users, though it did not disclose how many used it regularly. Twitter has more than 230 million daily users.


For Ye, who has been at the center of several cultural firestorms in recent weeks that led to accusations of racism and antisemitism, Parler’s appeal may be the freedom to post what he wants.


“Ye is making a groundbreaking move into the free speech media space and will never have to fear being removed from social media again,” said Farmer of Parlement, who is the son of a member of the British Parliament. “Once again, Ye proves that he is one step ahead of the legacy media narrative.”


In recent years, Ye made the jump from music to fashion, forging partnerships with Adidas, Gap and Balenciaga. He also has a stake in Skims, the shapewear business co-founded by his ex-wife, Kim Kardashian.


But some of those partnerships have been falling into disarray.


Last month, Ye notified Gap that he was ending their partnership involving the Yeezy Gap apparel line. Mark Breitbard, the head of the Gap brand, wrote in a note to employees that Gap and Ye had not been “aligned” on how to work together to deliver their shared vision.


This month, Ye disrupted a show for his YZY label at Paris Fashion Week by wearing a T-shirt featuring the words “White Lives Matter,” a phrase that the Anti-Defamation League has called hate speech. In response, Adidas said it was reviewing its partnership with him.


Ye wrote on Instagram after the fashion show that “my one T-shirt took allllll the attention.” Much of the reaction was negative. Sean Combs, the rapper and music executive, posted a video urging his audience not to wear or buy the shirt.


Ye then suggested on Instagram that Jewish people were controlling Combs. Instagram removed the posts and restricted Ye’s account.


Days later, after returning to Twitter following a nearly two-year absence, Ye published series of posts that hinted at violence toward Jewish people. He also wrote that “you guys have toyed with me and tried to blackball anyone whoever opposes your agenda.” (Musk replied to another post, in which Ye complained about being silenced on social media: “Welcome back to Twitter, my friend!”)


Twitter soon locked Ye’s account and prevented him from posting for an undisclosed period.


On Monday, a Parler account in Ye’s name went online. Within a few hours, he had amassed more than 8,000 followers. He had no posts.


Data.ai, which monitors app store activity, estimated that Parler downloads across Apple’s iOS platform and Google Play dropped to 21,000 in the third quarter of the year from 58,000 in the first quarter. Twitter, by comparison, had 4.5 million downloads in the third quarter.


Parler had 700,000 monthly average users in the middle of the year, compared with 2.8 million iPhone users on Truth Social, Data.ai estimated.


Despite high-profile backers, research suggests that the alternative social platforms have struggled to gain traction with most Americans. Only 6% of adults regularly seek out news from at least one of seven major alternative social media sites, according to a report this month from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center; in addition to Parler, they are BitChute, Gab, Gettr, Rumble, Telegram and Truth Social.


Of the 10,188 people surveyed, just 38% had heard of Parler, Pew found.


Dan Wang, a strategy professor at Columbia Business School, said Parler was an “incredibly niche” player.


“Kanye West is a wealthy person and has a lot of resources, but not on the scale of being able to buy actually influential social media platforms,” Wang said.


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